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Richard Vincent Whelan


Roman Catholic Bishop Richard Vincent Whelan (January 28, 1809-July 7, 1874) was born in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his education at Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Maryland and the Seminary of St. Sulpice in France. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1831. Whelan returned to Mount St. Mary’s, where he remained until 1835, serving on the faculty and as business manager for the college. He was sent to Martinsburg for his first pastoral assignment. He remained there for six years, caring for the Catholic families from Winchester to Harpers Ferry.

In 1841, at age 32, Whelan was consecrated as the second bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, which at that time comprised the entire state of Virginia, including present West Virginia. The vastness of the territory soon led him to petition the Holy See to divide the diocese along the natural barrier of the Allegheny Mountains. On July 19, 1850, Pope Pius IX erected the Diocese of Wheeling and approved Whelan’s request to take over the new diocese. Whelan is thus recognized as the founding bishop. At that time, there were four churches, three chapels, six priests, and 10 women religious to serve the estimated 5,000 Catholics scattered across the Diocese of Wheeling. At his death in 1874, the diocese could claim 46 churches, seven chapels, nine schools, a seminary, a hospital, 31 priests, and 109 women religious, with a Catholic population estimated at 18,000. Bishop Whelan died in Baltimore.

Written by Tricia Pyne